tv Memoirs of a Secretary at War CSPAN January 25, 2014 8:45am-9:51am EST
listen. i don't want to be like that. for so many reasons. it's not good intellectually, it's not persuasive, you don't make -- you don't change minds. >> next, robert gates at the national constitution center in philadelphia. he discussed his memoir, "duty: memoirs of a secretary at war." in the book mr. dates, who served as secretary of defense under president george w. bush and president obama, talks about his management of the wars in afghanistan and iraq, and he shares stories about his relationship with the white house and congress. [applause] >> secretary gates, i also want to thank you for being here, especially in light of the fact that you've recently had anor injury. i know you're making a robust recovery, but having to wear ara neck brace has surelyo complicated your being here andr getting here, and we thank you
for making that effort. >> when i, until i became secretary of defense, i had never broken a bone or had a>> u surgery -- [laughter] february of 2008 i fell on the ice and broke this shoulder in three places.ould ten months later putting a snowplow blade on a tractor, ir pulled a bicep tendon off this arm. my security guards quickly came to the conclusion that al-qaeda was no risk to me atcae all compared to myself. [laughter] to me at all comparedo myself. [laughter] and before we start i would like to say that it is good to be back here at the senate and also to apologize to the audience on my right for not turning in your direction. but the result of a broken neck is somewhat limited mobility of my head. well, that being said, let's get to your book. i found it a striking account
"duty" gave what i would call a great thing. and you had a lot of help from the secretary of state, hillary clinton as you and other top members wrestled with the difficulties on the ground in afghanistan and i would like to talk to you about this at some length, about your impressions of president obama. before we get into that, i would like to focus on a part of the book that hasn't gotten that much attention but which i think is equally important. and that is your description of the situation in the government and the white house when he took over as secretary of defense in 2006. you described a dire situation in iraq. american troops are dying at increasing rates.
with the insurgents that are gathering force, there is extreme explosive sectarian violence and no apparent plan on the part of the united states government for coping with that. the take away from that part of the book is that we had not planned properly for the occupation. and that that, indeed, it never occurred to military planners that we might be there as long as we had. so why were we so mistaken by that point? why we miss that? >> one of the concluding sections of the book is in effect on lessons learned about war. and one of the things that you would think people would understand would be how frequently people who advocate
going to war and who make decisions to go to war almost always are convinced that the war is going to be short. this year will celebrate the centenary of world war i, which is a classic example of where everybody thought the war would be over by october or november of 1914. the problem in iraq in particular and it really is true of iraq and afghanistan, that what began as swift military victory is quickly degenerated into long and grinding wars. in the case of iraq, it was always believed that it would be a short-term commitment. and i think it would be interesting to ask those who are participants in the decision-making had they known in march 2003 that the country would be at war in iraq for six or seven more years, whether they would have made the
decision. they did. this assumption that the war would be short but at the end was right around the corner afflicted the department of defense as badly as it did the decision-makers themselves. and because they assumed the war would be over quickly, there was a great reluctance to spend significant sums of money on equipment that might be needed to protect the troops but that might be useful only in iraq or afghanistan and as i describe in the book the department of defense has organized a plan for war and not to wage war. so the services dedicate all of their efforts to developing their long-range procurement plans and then defending those plans in the budget process regardless of what comes along.
and people were reluctant, for example, to find developing funds that save so many lives because that particular kind of vehicle was not in any plan for the army or the marine corps. >> i would like to ask you about that. to me that the military planners inside the beltway, they did not adjust to changing situations. >> the fact that also after the initial invasion it was just a series of stunningly bad decisions and mistakes. i would like to read a portion of the book, a situation that came across to me as scandalous. and i say this also because
there's quite a bit of praise on president bush on his. and i think that your critique of the president and the much reported critiques of president obama have missed the point and that they are part of a larger fabric and evaluation, which is much more nuanced and we have gotten so far. but let me talk about what i think is a scandalous situation. a fundamentally flawed and assumption from the outset that the iraq war would be a short one and cause many problems on the ground and for the troops as well. as the month stretch in two years, he never claimed to their original sanctions and seem unwilling to provide the troops everything they need for the protection and success and in their mission and to bring them home safely. if wanted to provide them with the very best of care. who wants to spend precious dollars on equipment for today's
troops? that would otherwise just be surplus. so for years, our troops traveled in vehicles like humvees, the modern equivalent of the jeep. but we are vulnerable to it with rocket propelled grenades and explosives projectiles. so people -- why did they not respond to casualties that are increasing? what we were doing was not working. were they not visiting the country? were they getting bad that information? and why was there bureaucratic resistance? >> i think as i indicated earlier i think that they kept thinking the end of the war was right around the corner throughout 2006 and the commander in the field until the fall of 2006, our commander in baghdad was still planning to draw down from 15 to 10 brigades
by the end of 2006 and only realized toward the end of that wouldn't be possible. the first person that i think seriously concluded that the strategy wasn't working was president bush. and i think that that happened probably in the late spring or early summer of 2006 and there are several different reviews launched for the most important one, which is probably led by the national security council staff, which would then lead to the president's decision to search the troops to get control of the security situation particularly in baghdad. this is a case and i have pointed it out and it has been presented mostly in a negative light. but i don't think it is a negative consideration.
this was the civilian leadership that decided the strategy wasn't working. not the military. and so when bush decided support the iraq surge, he was opposed by the joint chiefs of staff and the chairman of the joint chiefs and the theater commander in the commander in baghdad. >> you can hardly characterize that as a brilliant insight. many have turned against them because they were not doing well there. so why did the generals come on everyone else had decided that this was not going well? >> i wish i had an explanation for now. i wasn't there. i think that they -- i think they have concluded that their view was that more troops would aggravate the situation rather
than help it. including responsibility for their own security and that it would and that the iraqis were expecting to see a reduced u.s. presence is not an increasing one you okay, you write in the book that the general famously predicted that a congressional hearing that an occupation would've required and this is before the invasion in march of 2000. at an occupation would require hundreds of thousands of troops. would that have been a better approach? >> i think that the initial, it goes back -- these are the mistakes after the original invasion. had the iraqi invasion not been
disbanded, which was a catastrophic mistake, from men who didn't know anything else, into the civilian economy with no support for their part of this. if those troops, if we had done our best to keep the iraqi army coherent and with different leadership, then you probably would not have seen the looting that took place in baghdad and elsewhere. including violence that became so bad by 2006. so the number of troops required after the invasion in part dependent upon in iraq. i said in a speech of may of
2003 just six weeks after the invasion that now that we had overthrown saddam hussein, it reminded me of the situation where the dog catches the car and i said at the time we that we have more than 100,000 troops in iraq for more than a few months, we will be in serious trouble. and i said that i thought the political end of different decisions have been made and not period under the original invasion, they might have had ended up with what they did and people seem unwilling to say that that was a really stupid decision. i write in the book that it's like no one ever wrote a book
about this and the fact that if he ran the local power plant used to be a member of the party in the same thing in iraq. you have to be a member of the party if you were a schoolteacher. so does being oblivious to those kinds of things does lead to some amazingly stupid decisions. >> and it wasn't just a matter of the military infrastructure being dissolved but this as well, which i think is disappeared overnight. >> it goes to this. secretary rumsfeld said famously to a soldier that this is true. and what i add is that you better make it into the army as fast as you can. and that is what i think we did
not know. >> i have to ask you this. you mention this mentioned this and i think that i have this right. that your good friend i think it was the first bush administration that opposed the invasion in iraq. and i'm wondering, you never really address that issue as far as you are concerned. have you been ..his? >> in the last chapter, sort of summing up a reflection that i don't know and it's hard for me to say what i would have advocated in 2003. like a lot of people in the congress and most other countries in the world, initially they all accepted this
and that is how the u.n. security council got past with even russia and china. and so in that speech that i referred to a few weeks later, i said i supported the original decision for that reason. but i say in the book toward the end that i had argued strongly against going to baghdad in 1991 in the first gulf war because that would have meant to try to overthrow the regime, to get saddam hussein would have meant occupying two thirds of iraq and then it would be our problem so we were unanimous in the first bush administration in opposing the idea of going to baghdad and we took a lot of grief for it for not completing the job. we tended not to get that
criticism after march of 2003 any more but i argued maybe i would have made the same argument that did in 1991 about going to baghdad. i also might have been far more skeptical because of my intelligence background i might have been far more skeptical of the intelligence case that he had weapons of mass destruction than others were around the table just because i have a pretty good view of the strengths and weaknesses of our intelligence capabilities. to be honest i think it is hard for me to say what i would have advocated in 2003 with ten years of hindsight. >> talk a little bit about your efforts about getting these war hardened vehicles for the troops in iraq. you were surprised to learn their these vehicles in
development, minor resistance, ambush protected vehicles that as you say went a long way toward reducing casualties, how did you get that done? i noted for example that joe biden, a bunch of your criticism help you a lot in that regard. >> i give him credit for it in the book. it is a lesson i tried to hammer home to the senior civilian and military leaders, in terms of paying attention, when they read criticism in the newspapers not to go into a defensive crouch the to go find out whether the story is true or and not. it was a newspaper series in the washington post that put me on to the problem with wounded warriors at walter reed that led me to fire the secretary of the army. it was a newspaper story where i first read about these heavily armored vehicles and i read in usa today that the marines had
300 of these vehicles in the end our province and over a thousand attacks, not a single marine had been killed who was riding in one of these vehicles. i got some briefings on it and i wanted to buy these things in large numbers and there was no one in the department of defense that a senior level we this civilian or uniform who supported that decision and i basically said we are going to do it and this is one place i am critical of congress in this book but this is one place where the congress did the right thing in a timely way. and gave me all the money i asked for and we bought 27,000 of these vehicles for iraq and afghanistan and one of the measures that meant the most to me. there are lots of statistics in terms of lives saved and lives that weren't loss. when i became secretary and
visited the army's burn unit at brooke army hospital in san antonio it was absolutely full, because most of those young men had been in humvees that had blown up and became funeral pyres for them. by the time i was with in six months of leaving as secretaries that burn unit was nearly empty. and so ultimately everybody came around to the fact that this was a really good idea, probably because i said so as secretary of defense, but there was a lot of opposition and again because these vehicles weren't anybody's long-term procurement plan, they were more worried about what they would do with them after civil war than what good they might do in the war. my attitude is particularly when you are dealing with the lives of young men and women, when you are in a war you are all in and
whatever it takes to protect, to give them the tools to do the job and then come home safely you make that investment and if you have all the surplus at the end of the war, so be it. >> one of the most disturbing parts of the book, there is a method that was available to the military to save lives yet for narrow reasons of bureaucratic agenda as it wasn't implemented. how do you fix a problem like that going forward? seems to me that is cultural and the culture no doubt survived. >> it is a leadership issue. i will give you another example that is even more shocking in my view, the matter-of-fact, time for medevac in iraq was an hour called the golden hour, the helicopter could be dispatched to pick up a soldier who had
been wounded and get him to the hospital in an hour. in afghanistan was two hours. and i said i think it should be an hour. just like in iraq. both uniformed and civilian senior officials came to me about all these statistics about how death rate for comparable for medevacing in iraq and afghanistan despite the time difference and so on and therefore because it was statistically wash, it wasn't worth the investment to put additional resources into it. my reaction was a simple lunch. if i am a soldier fat and have been blown up by want helicopters there as quickly as possible. and so we send more helicopters, several additional field hospitals. i made that decision in january of 2008 or 2009, can't remember
which and by july something like 80% of our medical evacuation is were taking place in less than 40 minutes. the problem in part it seemed to me was that the people who were in charge of these things weren't looking at them from the soldier's standpoint. they been looking at it from 30 or 40,000 feet. the other problem in the pentagon denied talk about that relates to all of these issues is there are so many different elements of the department of defense who have to be on board, who have to agree to move anything forward, that any one of those elements, whether it is the money people or the technology people or the budget years or whatever can basically
slowdown or stop something from happening. only the secretary of defense has the authority to override everybody in the building and say we're just going to do it. >> in other words it requires a leader with a considerable willpower and commitment to getting this thing done. i want to ask you -- >> nothing like getting the attention of the senior military and the pentagon has told like firing some people. >> which you did a lot of. >> i hold people accountable. my attitude was in the case of walter reed and the nuclear issue which is back in front of us when i fired the chief of staff and secretary of the air force, identify them for not knowing about a problem in the first place. i fired some because once they knew about it didn't take it seriously enough. that is the kind of accountability i think needs to be exercised in washington. >> how did you feel about losing
general stanley mcchrystal? >> at first i felt he committed a terrible error. i say so in the book. giving access to this report. general stanley mcchrystal is one of the most effective combat generals we have had since world war ii as commander in afghanistan and as commander of the joint special operations unit in iraq and afghanistan. he did a lot of damage to our enemies and people who were killing our troops but the world of politics and the media was a new battle space for general stanley mcchrystal and he was a brand new second lieutenant in that realm. as effective as he was in the command position he stepped out of line in some of his interviews but i felt when the
report, when the article came out about him with a quote that seemed to disparage the vice president and the national security adviser and others, my worry was that if he was relieved, we might lose the war in afghanistan right then and there. we had by that time the time line the president had decided which i supported of being all out, our combat troops out by the end of 2014 comments and he got along well with hamid karzai, he knew the battle plan, he knew the brigade commanders. there was a familiarities there and i'm worried finding a replacement would take months to get confirmed and then more months to get acclimated the not -- up to speed so i deeply worried that relieving general stanley mcchrystal would be a huge setback in the war.
then it was the president in discussing whether to relieve general stanley mcchrystal who said how about general david petraeus to take over, and he immediately, i give the president a lot of credit for the idea because it hadn't even occurred to me. that alleviated a lot of my concerns because general david petraeus knew the battle plan, the brigade commanders, new hamid karzai and had a good relationship with him so i thought we wouldn't really lose much time in the war if general stanley mcchrystal or replaced by general david petraeus. and i say in the book, i wish stan had given me something to defend him with, the story was wrong in some particular as bad as i right in the book was sort of like he was at west point again and just saying no excuse, sir. solyndra those conditions as i right in the book i thought the
president had no choice but to relieve them. >> i found that part of little puzzling. there was a history, for those in the audience to don't know general stanley mcchrystal was a special operations commander who had tremendous success in iraq before going to afghanistan, was a war hero and taken out of the battles this very third al qaeda commander and was instrumental in capturing saddam hussein, a revered soldier whose staff in afghanistan made some unfortunate and candid remarks to a rolling stone reporter. when he was called out on the carpet and this is after i gather he had made some other unfortunate remarks in london, not sensational but rather not closely tracking with the president's preferred policy positions, making the president mad, he had already had a couple strikes against him.
when this came up, you said general stanley mcchrystal didn't take any steps to defend himself. even though there was possibly a knife in and he could have used. why? >> first of all, i think stan -- i am assuming some things here because i never really had a detailed conversation with him about why he didn't defend himself, only that he didn't. but i think he knew he had made the decision to allow this non-traditional reporter to be a part of his entourage. i think he was stunned by the article, he may not -- and army inspector general reported suggest team may not have known about a lot of the statements
made by his staff to this reporter. i think he didn't quite know how to respond. he didn't want to throw his staff under the bus so i think he did what he saw as the ethical thing for a commander to do under the circumstances which was to take the hit. >> one portion of this 6 just to build on one of your observations, there was a lot of ill will toward general stanley mcchrystal in the white house because in the fall of 2009 when we were debating options for afghanistan including whether to go with what he recommended, 40,000 additional troops or other options with smaller numbers that had been advocated by the vice president and others there were a number of weeks of public statements by the military including general
stanley mcchrystal that made it appear to the white house and to the president that the military was trying to box him in and force his hand to adopt their option in terms of the 40,000 troops. i tried to convince the president that i could see where this suspicion came from because of these leaks in public statements. the president and others around him, joe biden and others sought an orchestrated campaign by the military leadership, i tried to argue that it was not a campaign, not orchestrated, that if it had been orchestrated it would have been a lot smarter but i was unsuccessful in that. it did lead to an undercurrent of ill will toward him that when this article then came out about six months later he really didn't have a question.
>> you write in your book that you described this as a a pretext the vice president used to have general stanley mcchrystal fired. >> the way i describe it is general stanley mcchrystal handed his opponents in the white house the ammunition with which to get rid of. >> i want to talk to you very briefly about your political battles in washington. you cannot paint a flattering picture, this is not big news, of our political process in washington. what struck me is your detailed accounts of interactions with democratic and republican members of congress who behind closed doors would tell you is that the policies you are promoting were actually things that had to be done or should be done or going in the right direction but when they came out and faced the lights and spoke to the press, it was a totally opposite situation, they were
highly critical of the president and the pentagon. you have been in washington, you have been in government long time. do you think our dysfunctional politics are any different from the way they have ever been? this >> television contributes. i say in the book when the red light on the television camera would go on in a hearing it had the effect on members of congress of a full moon on werewolf's. i guess the way i would put it and the way i write about it in the book is our politics in this country as this center makes so clear have been rough-and-tumble from the very beginning and quite to the day she and george washington in his second term came in for a lot of hits as did all of his successors but what is different now and what has happened over the last i would
say quarter of a century is that we have lost -- congress has lost the ability to do the people's business. it is one thing to argue and fight and say terrible things about each other. that has been going on for our whole history but the inability to pass legislation, to deal with serious problems, i think is a relatively new phenomenon, and some of it is institutional, has to do with gerrymandering and the fact that in the house may be only 50 or 60 seats are now competitive and the only elections that matter and a lot of places are the primaries where you got to appeal to your party base, what you are democrats or republicans and what we had for the first half of my career were what i would describe as a large number, i will take the senate, of senators, center of left, center
of right to figure out ways to put together coalitions and get important legislation passed. the list will be familiar to all of you. these bridge builders were people like bill cohen and bill bradley, jack danforth, john warner, david boren, sam dunn, republicans and democrats, the list goes on. may be the last one to leave because of frustration was olympia snow. so you have this large number of people, most of whom could have been reelected forever who left in disgust because they couldn't get anything done and i think that is the new phenomenon over the last couple decades that is especially worrying. the other theme in this book and it is an important point to make, despite my frustrations and even my anchor at the
congress, the reality is i had got a lot of things done with congress. most of my predecessors if they were lucky to get two or three or four big military procurement programs canceled that were over cost, overdue or no longer relevant. i cut nearly 3 dozen and ended up getting congressional approval or acquiescence in all of them. i cut almost $200 billion out of the pentagon's overhead and even eliminated a combat command and i got the congress to support me on that. partly because i had enormously strong supporter of president obama and the veto threat behind me. but it was also working across the aisle with members of congress of both parties and figuring out how to move the agenda forward and so i argue at the end of the books that we do
have these institutional problems like gerrymandering, what i consider the weakening of the role of congress in governance because of the weakening of the committee chairs and a variety of other things that at the end of the day the problem, you can begin i think to address the paralysis, not necessarily the polarization but the paralysis by people just by people at the white house and people in congress beginning to treat each other more civilly, by people being willing to listen and take ideas from the other side, of not demonizing the other side, not distorting the facts purposely. i think there are a bunch of things just in terms of the way people treat each other in washington that could change the tone comment and the chairman of the house of foreign affairs committee when i first became
secretary, a few months in, told me that my arrival had been important because i changed the tone of the way the debate was being carried on in iraq and other things. the undercurrent in this book is i was able to make washington work but the way you make it work is through the way you treat people. >> on the subject of politics and we are running out of time i want to ask you mention in the book there is a little description of a phone call from the senate democratic leader harry reid who wanted the defense department to spend some money on research on irritable bowel syndrome. this was while you were dealing with wars in iraq and afghanistan. great deal of danger here in deplane certain metaphors and i will try to avoid that. how did that conversation go?
>> i politely told him i would look into it. he came out yesterday and was kerri critical the book to which my response was it is just a fact of life that members of congress vote on things they haven't even read. [applause] >> as they say you have to pass the bill to find out what is in it. called and asked if you would be interested in running with president obama as vice presidential candidate. how did that go? >> one of the more, bizarre conversations i ever had. he called up and we were talking about something else and all of a sudden he said i was largely responsible for talking president obama into running for president. i heard that from a lot of
people on the hill and he said there is no candidate for vice president. how long have you been a registered republican? i said i am not a registered republican. he said where do you stand on abortion? i said i don't have a stand on abortion. somehow that has never come into the national security arena. he said how long were you an academic? not all that long. something may come of this or nothing, but i just wanted to check and i started to laugh. that is really weird. as i say in the book parrot told anybody about it because i don't think anybody would believe me. >> but you did end up working for the president nonetheless. one serious issue that has been raised by this book, the way the government functions, that came up early on in coverage of the
book, a lot of hand-wringing about these conversations you had with president obama and the focus is always on the conversations with president obama, not president bush but he revealed much there as well, were held in confidence and indeed the president often invoked executive privilege with congress to prevent exactly this kind of information from coming out so there can be a free flow of ideas and free exchange of information. how did you work through the ethics of that? i came away thinking this is a public service, people learn a lot about the way their senior government leaders make difficult decisions, both republican and democrat but you were disclosing something and i have no doubt both presidents didn't anticipate that this would be in a book. how did you work through that?
>> first of all i think modern presidents have a pretty realistic expectations about what will be written, but that said, from my standpoint, there were a couple things that were important. the first is if you actually read the book conversations i described almost entirely pain these presidents in a positive light because it shows them pushing back against the military, asking hard questions, not being, not allowing themselves to be spoon fed information, not just acquiescing because some guy with four stars on his shoulder said we ought to do this so it shows these presidents doing what i think americans would hope their commander-in-chiefs would do and it underscore is that these two presidents just like almost all of their predecessors had disagreed with
the military at various times and made decisions that the military had not recommended. the second piece of this is this book is dedicated to the men and women of the u.s. armed forces. i wrote this book in substantial measure for the troops and their families and one of the things i wanted them in to see under both of these presidents and in both iraq and afghanistan, i wanted them to see what the washington battle space looked like the. they knew what iraq and afghanistan looked like but i wanted them to have some insight into the real world of what was going on in washington, as big issues associated with this war was discussed. and to give them some sense of the passion and the amount of time spent debating these issues and the decisions they would
make, and i think it is a realistic portrayal of the wars that being fought in washington at the same time there were wars being fought in iraq and afghanistan. the final point, people's memories are short especially in washington but the reality is all through 2010 senior white house staffers were leaking what the president was thinking, what his conversations were, his criticisms of the military, and so on and so forth, on a routine basis in the newspapers so the notion that what i described in the book as the president's growing reservations about the decisions he had made is absolutely no news. newspapers were full of that informational through 2010 and the first part of 2011.
>> i do agree with your descriptions of george bush and president obama often very laudatory but there's quite a bit of critical commentary as well and one portion of this book strikes me as very much in that vein. you take the president, president obama to task for being what i would characterize as an uninspiring military leader. he didn't bring enthusiasm to his role as commander-in-chief especially with regards to the afghanistan war. and you had a conversation with rahm emanuel where you made that point, that the soldiers needed to hear that the president was behind as you call it, the mission. zach is -- you drew that conclusion from your interactions with him in these inner councils. >> in trying to weigh this and
balance it, i supported every single one of president obama's decisions on afghanistan including the decision to seek the strategic agreement with the afghans that would keep a residual force added an end of the year but there were two aspects of the war in afghanistan that troubles me. one was the president's suspicion of the motives of the senior military particularly when it came to their recommendations on afghanistan and the second was what you describe. as i told rahm emanuel when i met with him i don't mind that the president speaks out on exit strategies and so on, but the troops need to hear from their commander, the person who is sending them in harm's way, that
their cause is just and noble and the mission is important for the country and therefore their sacrifice worth it. in the two years i worked for president obama he only did that once or twice and i think that is one of the responsibilities of the commander-in-chief. when he deploys men and women in harm's way, that he be willing to speak publicly to why that is important and why their potential sacrifice is worth while. >> do you ever try to broach with the president himself? >> guest: i raised it directly with rahm emanuel and i said the president has to take ownership of this war and i think on probably a few occasions i mentioned to the president that he ought to go say more about why it is important to do is this but the interesting thing
is once he made this difficult decision in november of 2009 where he overrode the political recommendations of his vice president and all his political advisers, to approve the surge, there never was other than the initial speech at west point on december 1st, there was really not any kind of a white house effort over the ensuing months for there to be any kind of campaign with the american public to tell them why those decisions were important and why this cause was important. >> one last question. you mention in the book that you urged senior white house staff not to leak information about the raid to kill osama bin laden and the information leaked out within five hours, who leaked that information? >> i like to tell people the
department of defense wrote the book on leaking. i'm not trying to pretend the defense department is innocent in this category. the defense department is very good about holding secret military plans and tactics and techniques that might put troops at risk so in this case my belief is -- i will describe the scene. at the end of our time in the situation room we know osama bin laden has been killed, he is back in july abide, he is on his way to a watery grave and we are about to break up as the president is going upstairs to address the nation and tell them about this extraordinary success and i said look, before everybody goes, we used these tactics and techniques every night in afghanistan in going after taliban and al qaeda
leaders so it is important that everybody agreed that all we are going to say is that we killed him. and not get into any details about the operation and how we did it. and as you say i right in the book that lasted about 5 hours. everybody agreed after i made this little pitch everybody agreed like little kids, did our think, we wouldn't do this and it lasted about 5 hours. i believe the leaks primarily came from the white house and cia who just couldn't wait to brag about how good this had been. and then i think about two weeks later defense probably started judge i-man. >> host: but you right there was a significant operational downside to doing that because -- the raids are being done every night in afghanistan and
iraq to apprehend and removed from what you call the battle space these al qaeda commanders and taliban people. there was a significant cost to that. >> i think so. >> some questions from the audience that i would like to pose to you but before i do that, very quickly, anything you did you wish you could have done again? before i say that, you write very movingly about the difficulty, coping with casualties and responsibility for that and i -- that part of the book was very well written and i highly recommend people focus on that. >> i think i am fairly -- i think i am blind and candid in describing mistakes that others made. i am equally blunt and candid in describing mistakes that i think
i made and to answer your question, one for example is i allowed a fairly dysfunctional chain of command problem in afghanistan to continue longer than i should have, where the u.s. commander in afghanistan actually didn't have command over all the american troops serving in afghanistan and i ask two successive chairman of the joint chiefs to fix it it was ultimately my responsibility and i took too long, i finally fixed it but to too long to get there. that is just one example. >> to follow up quickly, you write in the book that richard holbrooke, the special envoy, and the ambassador were working against the reelection campaign of our allies there, hamid karzai. and you didn't seem to be very
happy about that. how did that happen? >> first of all, hamid karzai may have his shortcomings but he knows what is going on in his own capital so the idea that we could do this and him not know we were trying to get rid of him is pretty naive in my view. and so when you see all these problems hamid karzai creates for us, his knowing that for all practical purposes we attempted a. against him in the summer of 2009, probably didn't help the relationship. >> and he is still there nursing some resentment i am sure. so i have some questions from the audience. here is a statement, a flat out position paper. thank you for your longtime commitment to protecting my family and country, get well
soon, godspeed and go and eat. [applause] >> a little trouble reading this but it is my understanding the chairman of the joint chiefs is directly responsible to the president. what valuable input do we lose when the chairman is obsequious to a domineering secretary of defense? >> the chain of command does not include the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff nor does it include the vice president. it goes from the president to the secretary of defense to combat commander. so under the national security act of 1947 the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is one of the statutory advisers to the
nsc, one of only two. the other the head of intelligence. he is the president and senior military adviser and chairman of the joint chiefs. he has no direct command authority. i will say both president bush and president obama gave the joint chiefs, including the chairman, all the time they wanted. and in my experience and i watched two different chairman under two different presidents and i never saw either of them be obsequious or the president try to intimidate them or sort of dampen their views by being sarcastic or harsh or insulting or intimidating in any way. both of these presidents despite the fact that they both
disagreed with the chairman on a number of occasions were very respectful and gave them all kinds of time and i always made sure, first of all i considered it critical for me to get the most blunt possible advice from my senior military officials and i will give you an example of that. it will have to be bleaked. but when it came time for me to decide whether to extend military tours in iraq and afghanistan from 12 to 15 months, i was working with the military and trying to decide, a very difficult decision. i knew it would have big consequences for military families. my senior military adviser comes to me at one point and says the troops know you have to make this decision and they think you
are an asshole for not making it. that is the kind of canned or i tried to encourage among senior military and i believe i had a very good relationship with them and they would disagree with me more than one occasion. the medevac was an example, the number of drones was another. so i tried to encourage an environment where they would speak up and where they would be honest and candid and i think any secretary of defense or president who does not want that kind of canned tour is making a terrible and dangerous mistake. >> judging from your book, endless frustration about president bush and president obama and mike mullen, chairman, on a number of occasions. >> wasn't just like. was the number of other senior
military. that frustration and impatience was not over what the senior military would tell them in the situation room or in the oval office or even in open testimony. it was what they would go out and say in public speeches or television injuries and things like that. that is what got under both of these presidents's skin. >> i could see why it would. seems to me there's a difficult line to draw. you want to get good advice. this is a democracy, citizens' needs and expect a certain level of transparency and information from their leaders and yet if a military leader is promoting a policy agenda that differs with the white house it seems to me that could cause tremendous difficulties. >> not only one that differs, pursuing an agenda that differs from the white house, is speaking out about things that in some way or another limit the
president's options or telegraph consequences that may be the president would rather keep private during a period of deliberation. one of the things i write about at the end in terms of civil and military relationships is the consequences of senior military speaking out too often in areas which are not necessarily their direct responsibility or in terms of pre-empting the president. >> another question here. very simple, the answer is simple, which booked were interviewed have you enjoyed the most, charlie rose or jon stewart? i would have to -- the answer now has to be this stopped. >> guest: let's just say the interviews with john stewart and charlie rose were somewhat different in nature but both were enjoyable. >> do you think the united states should adopt a policy of
national service that includes the draft? >> i believe if i could wave a magic wand, what i would favor is required national service that is not limited to the military. i believe that every young person in america between certain age of 18-28-25 or whatever ought to spend a year or two or three in the military, providing national service, giving back to the country something in exchange for what they have been given. we hear so much in this country about our rights as citizens and we hear so little about our
obligations as citizens so whether it is tutoring and inner-city or rural schools or working in hospitals, teach for america, the civilian conservation corps, a host of different things, for some period of time. if you volunteer for the military, we get paid significantly more than in other areas partly because of the risk and so on. where i am torn is that whether such service should be required or whether it should be voluntary. but the voluntary piece of it would involve some measure of pressure spins in the sense that you would be, if you had not performed national service, you would be significantly
disadvantaged in admissions for universities, hiring process, jobs, in other words this could come to be seen as a moral and ethical obligation on the part of the young person, if you chose not to serve it would weigh against you in choices in your life. i strongly believe there ought to be -- you would find the military leadership is totally against this draft and i share that. service broadened for everybody. >> if you look into the future what is the greatest threat to the security of the united states. >> the greatest immediate
threat. is the paralysis that we see in the two square miles that encompass capitol hill. if we can't begin seriously to address the problems that we face, whether it is education, immigration, the deficit, national debt, a host of other problems, none of those problems can be solved in the span of one presidency or one congress so the only way to make headway against those problems is through bipartisan solutions that can be sustained through more than one presidency in congress. if we can't begin to get past this paralysis in washington that i think we are in serious trouble. if you want to talk about national security issues, we have to worry about cyber, we have to worry about a terrorist in this country with a weapon of
mass destruction, we have to worry about iran, we have to worry about north korea, we have to worry about something inadvertently creating a crisis in the south china sea. those are all out there on the horizon as significant problems. but the biggest challenge we face is getting our own house in order. >> secretary robert gates, thank you so much, very interesting. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> some of you have been
marching for over 40 years comments and have endured many setbacks including the recent expansion of abortion coverage in obamacare. but it is important more now than average that we remain strong and stand together. we cannot allow the opponents of life to continually weaken the moral fabric of our country. they need to know that they need to understand that we will continue to march, we will continue to educate, we will continue to advocate and we will continue to fight for the unborn. >> despite the fact that president obama is using stealth, deception and the coercive power of the state to promote abortion violence the pro-life movement is alive and